By Amber Avalona/ParaglideJanuary 7, 2011
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Preparation is an Army way of life. For new parents, that same commitment to excellence is achieved through a wealth of military resources, all designed to strengthen the fabric of Fort Bragg Families. On Dec. 16, 2010, beginning at 4 p.m., Womack Army Medical Center held a town hall meeting in support of this mission. The infant care town hall meeting, held in WAMC\'s Weaver Auditorium, familiarized parents and professionals with services like the New Parent Support Program and the hospital's state-of-the-art mother-baby unit. "We take the health of the youngest members of our Army team very seriously," said Col. Brian Canfield, WAMC commander who addressed the crowd before a panel of WAMC staff discussed safe baby practices and healthy Family habits. "We put a lot of emphasis on making sure babies are safe, so we talk a lot about safe sleep practices," noted Dr. Ursula Chesney, M.D., chief of pediatrics at WAMC. Chesney handles a number of sudden infant death syndrome cases on Fort Bragg, and she emphasized that SIDS is a diagnosis of exclusion. Especially in children ages six months and younger, the label of an unexplained death" only follows an autopsy, a review of the baby's medical history and a thorough investigation of the scene. Fort Bragg physicians aim to educate parents on modifiable risk factors for SIDS, which include laying an infant to sleep on its back. Some parents will say an infant sleeps better on its stomach, but babies defined as high-risk for SIDS should sleep lighter, according to Chesney. This means modifying the sleep cycle to prevent deep sleep, where breathing slows or it's hard to awaken. Other safe sleep practices include using a crib instead of the parents' bed, eliminating cigarette smoke from the home (even smoking outside leaves carcinogens on clothes and skin) and using pacifiers when putting a baby to sleep. Maj. James Wayne, battalion surgeon for the Warrior Transition Battalion and a pediatrician at WAMC, attended the town hall meeting as an audience member. He also discussed the dangers of co-sleeping with an infant. In his emergency room career, Wayne has attempted five unsuccessful resuscitations - four were the result of a parent co-sleeping with an infant. Col. James Liffrig, M.D., chief of the Department of Family Medicine, WAMC, discussed pregnancy and well-baby visits at Fort Bragg primary care clinics. Liffrig promised parents, "We'll not only treat you but we'll educate you." He added, "We don't want people to think we focus on just babies or just mothers or just fathers. We consider the Family and, depending on the nature of the visit, we always welcome additional Family members." The panel also included Maj. Michelle Wolf, a clinical nurse specialist for Maternal Child Health Care, WAMC; Lt. Col. Cathy Price, R.N., clinical officer in charge of the Mother-Baby Unit, WAMC; and Sue O'Brien, New Parent Support Program coordinator, Army Community Service. NPSP has a staff of 16, including both licensed clinical social workers and registered nurses, who each handle an average caseload of six Families. They travel up to 50 miles to meet with clients. The program reaches out to Families who are expecting a baby, as well as those with children three years and younger. Free client services include home visits, play mornings, classes, support groups, referrals and parenting books. WAMC delivers more than 300 babies a month and NPSP staff contact nearly 90 percent of these new parents, according to Tom Hill, Family Advocacy Program manager. "We're trying to get the word out. There are so many people who don't know (about the program)," said Hill. They made over one million contacts last year, including phone calls to military parents and repeat home visits. Home visitors encourage both parents to take an active part in the process. Adults can also enroll in classes like Dads 101, sign language for babies, a breastfeeding support group and infant massage. Free books on raising young children are also in the NPSP office, located on the third floor of the Soldier Support Center. "We tell men this is better and cheaper than buying her flowers, if you learn to burp the baby and change diapers," Hill added. According to Valerie Coleman, LCSW, a home visitor who set up an informational table at the event, clients are most concerned about keeping their babies safe. A large percentage of the Fort Bragg population want to make sure they get it right. Coleman said that many mothers are shocked to learn statistics on shaken baby syndrome, which list biological fathers as most likely to shake a baby. Anyone is vulnerable to initiating SBS, added Coleman, because of the stressors faced by military Families. Seeking help for the proper raising of a child is a sign of strength, not weakness, and can often lead to a healthier, happier home environment. NPSP relies heavily on research conducted by Cornell University - research that lists the birth to age three group as the highest risk for intentional or unintentional neglect or abuse. The Army's fact-based approach to parental education has led to implementing abuse prevention techniques that work, along with greater involvement of single fathers. For more information on new parent support, call 396-5521 or visit www.fortbraggmwr.com/npsp.php. Check out www.wamc.amedd.army.mil to become acquainted with the birthing unit or primary care clinics.